- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 10, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Getting burned for four touchdowns in the Baltimore Ravens' past four games will not exactly help cornerback Duane Starks renegotiate his contract upward. In the final year of his initial four-year deal, opponents are unmercifully picking on the fourth-year player out of Miami.
In Sunday's 13-10 victory, the Pittsburgh Steelers threw 16 of their first 17 passes to Starks' side. The Steelers only touchdown of the game came when wide receiver Plaxico Burress ran by Starks for a 21-yard TD with 15 seconds left before halftime. It was Burress' first career touchdown.
To his credit, Starks is taking the criticism like a man. He admits he is making mistakes. He also vows to return to last season's postseason form, when he intercepted three passes in the playoffs and returned one for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXV.
"We game plan each and every team and each and every individual, so therefore we just do what we have to do, and I have to hold up my part and do what I have to do instead of [just] being aggressive," said Starks, who will start against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night. "This hasn't tested my confidence at all knowing that the mistakes that I've made have cost me. I know that I can't make those same mistakes."
Starks, 24, believes last year's home game against Jacksonville is the one that gave him a beatable reputation. That day Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith put on one of the league's greatest receiving displays against Starks, catching 15 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Smith's reception total tied for the sixth most in NFL history, and his yardage was fifth best all time.
"I'm glad that [opponents] feel that way just because of the Jacksonville game," Starks said. "I know what I have to do, and I know I can't worry about what people are saying. I can't worry about the fans, I can't worry about the media, and I can't worry about my teammates. I just have to worry about what I have to do and everything else will fall into place."
On Monday, coach Brian Billick admitted that the Ravens' defense as a whole is "playing very well, but not at that dominant stage that we were last year." It shows in the secondary. Last season Baltimore's record-setting defense allowed just 11 passing touchdowns. After just eight games, the Ravens already have permitted 10 this season.
"We're a good defense, we're not the best defense yet, we're certainly capable of that, and hopefully we're closing in on that and now is a good time to do that," Billick said. "I think those guys will tell you the same thing: They're not playing as well as they are capable of playing. It's not always what is apparent. It's not just Duane Starks. It has to do with coverages, what we have them in, where the help is coming from, and what pressure is going on."
Life as an NFL cornerback is an unforgiving one. When a corner gets beaten, everybody is watching. In a 24-14 loss to Cleveland, Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson appeared to push off Starks at the Ravens' 5 before catching a 28-yard touchdown pass from Tim Couch. No call. Touchdown.
"You've got corners and you've got quarterbacks either one of those positions mess up, they're going to be talked about and [criticized] because they are the most visible out there," fellow corner Chris McAlister said. "A corner messes up… six points. A quarterback messes up… interceptions, fumbles, or whatever it may be. You've got to take the good with the good and the bad with the bad."
Although Starks, the 10th overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, has Pro Bowl aspirations, he is widely recognized as a good cornerback rather than a great one. If Starks doesn't start making plays, the Ravens may be forced to go with veteran James Trapp, who is having a good season. Now Trapp only comes in on nickel situations.
The Ravens have not intercepted a pass since Oct. 7 against the Tennessee Titans, when Starks victimized Steve McNair with 4:54 remaining. Since then, opponents have thrown 126 passes without an interception.


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